A new law has been placed before the Philippine Senate this week; Senate Bill 1738 regarding discrimination in the work place.

Following support for Bill 1738 by Philippine Senators Ramon Revilla, Luisa Ejercito Estrada, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, as well as international organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy (LAGABLAB), the bill is currently in the committee stage.

This is not the first time that a bill of this nature has been placed in the Senate. Over the past seven years LAGABLAB has tried to lobby for the creation of anti-discrimination laws, but these have often faced fierce opposition and allowed to languish in the system.

The new bill, though, is currently before the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment and Human Resources Development. Senator Revilla appeared to defend the bill before the committee, along with the head of LAGABLAB, and members of other international and national organisations.

Throughout the hearing the committee heard testimony from members of the public, as well as organisations, that highlighted the nature of discrimination in both work and social life.

One written testimony from Inday Garutay stated how he had entered a restaurant with his boyfriend, but had been asked to leave as the restaurant had a homophobic policy.

The Alliance for the Family Foundation appeared to oppose the bill. The non-governmental organisation, supported by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, spoke against the changes on the grounds that the law already extends protection for the LGBT community and risked creating a special law for them.

They also asked for the law not to be changed to ensure the prohibition of single sex marriage.

According to the LAGABLAB website, the head of the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment and Human Resources Development told the hearing that with the support of both employee and employers he could see no reason for the bill not to be passed.

The Philippines has a large Catholic Community which vigorously opposes the use of contraception. Catholic beliefs have also resulted in a largely conservative social policy from the government, yet many people in the Philippines are openly homosexual.

HRW reports over the past several years have sought to highlight the problem facing HIV and AIDS education programmes in schools across the country when not allowed to discuss the issue of condoms. It is also claimed that some Catholic schools instigate masculinity test to weed out gay students.

Reports such as this, combined with the testimony in court in favour of the bill, paint the picture of a deeply socially conservative country.